Emma Chambers remembered by Richard Curtis

11 March 1964 – 21 February 2018
The writer-director on the comic genius of the Vicar of Dibley and Notting Hill star, who was a complex mixture of confident and insecure and who gave joy to millions

• Chas Hodges remembered by Dave Peacock
• Read the Observer’s obituaries of 2018 in full here

Well, of course, I’d rather I wasn’t writing this at all. It was a terrible shock and sorrow to lose Emma.

From where I stood she was a remarkable and passionate woman with an amazing capacity for love and laughter and joy. And she was a truly wonderful actress with a particular genius for comedy. When people watched her in our Dibley show, they not only laughed – they also loved her and what they were loving was something real in Emma the person, an openness, a craziness, a sweetness. My daughter posted a picture of Emma on her Instagram account when she died and 4,000 people instantly reacted with love and comments. I particularly liked this one... “Emma always made the quirky best friend a so much funnier thing to be than the leading lady.” It’s no surprise they changed the BBC One schedules on the day Emma died to show an episode of her getting married in Dibley.

She was precociously successful as an actress before I met her – swept up by Alan Ayckbourn right out of drama school – moving on to the National Theatre and starring in a play with the greatest English actor of our generation Ian McKellen. He loved her so much that she ended up living with him and calling him affectionately, cheekily – Hedgy. Because he is surprisingly similar to a hedgehog apparently.

Then we were so lucky to get her in Dibley. And she was a gripping person to spend time with. The mixture of coquette and deep seriousness. The insecurity and the confidence. The laughter and the tears. She worked so hard – prepared so carefully – had such an amazing sense of perfect pitch, both in Dibley and in our film Notting Hill. She was one of the very finest comic actresses I’ve ever seen.

She also had a real talent for love and friendship. On Dibley and Notting Hill, she was always there with her arms round you – or sitting on your lap. I talked to her just a few weeks before she died about this. She rang me – ostensibly concerned about the #MeToo movement – saying: “Cuetips [her nickname for me], you’re not going to report me for sexual harassment, are you? I seriously meant nothing by it...”

She had such a range of wonderful ways of being – mock outrage, deep empathy, crazy high spirits. There was never a boring moment with Emma, which makes it all the worse that she’s gone.

She was also a complicated, complicated woman – and later there were all sorts of puzzling things about her life. But the older I get, the more I realise that what’s wonderful about someone is probably what’s tricky about them too. You can’t have one without the other. The very passion that made her love and her acting so remarkable sometimes took her off the rails. The insecurity that made her so touching and so demanding of herself also made her genuinely insecure. But that was her package: you just can’t say: “Oh, I wish this hadn’t been the case” because then all the marvellous stuff would have to be taken down a notch too and she’d have been a different and less dazzling person.

Emma brought joy and empathy to millions of people and to those of us who loved her. She had unusual beauty and grace and wit and passion. I feel hugely lucky to have known her and miss her so.

The GuardianTramp

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